Speaking Truth to Power: Better Media Wanted

Dan Froomkin, writing for Al Jazeera America on Tuesday, argues that (American) media discourse is failing the American people:

The truth of what happened Monday night, as almost all political reporters know full well, is that “Republicans staged a series of last-ditch efforts to use a once-routine budget procedure to force Democrats to abandon their efforts to extend U.S. health insurance.” (Thank you, Guardian.)

And holding the entire government hostage while demanding the de facto repeal of a president’s signature legislation and not even bothering to negotiate is by any reasonable standard an extreme political act. It is an attempt to make an end run around the normal legislative process. There is no historical precedent for it.

It’s easy enough to verify how deeply skewed American citizens’ views are on this issue: just look how disparate the poll results are about who they think is responsible for this shutdown. Compare it to how the rest of the world is perceiving this, and the contrast is as stark as a winter’s night and a summer’s day.

The fact that there are people who blame Obama, or blame Senator Reid for this government shutdown, only proves how poorly informed, even misinformed, large portions of the American public are. (Aside: if you think this statement makes me partisan, I regret to inform you that you’re believing media outlets who are failing to do their job of adequately informing you.)

These people aren’t crazy, mental, brainwashed or evil. They are well-meaning citizens played into more and more polarizing and extreme positions by a fringe group of the Republican party that wants to see the country burn because it’ll prove them right. It’ll let them say “See? We put Democrats in charge, and now look at us!” without ever acknowledging that they caused this damage themselves entirely.

Worse, these citizens are played by a cowardly media too afraid to speak the truth for fear of being called partisan—as if such a thing would actually affect ratings and ad income so heavily that it’s worth completely abandoning their principles and values and shirking their responsibilities over. Here’s a tip for them: explore more inclusive language so that you can speak the truth without demonizing responsible politicians, or alienating audiences. The citizens are hungry for reporting they can trust, but you’ll need to spend some time rebuilding and regaining their trust with honest, factual reporting first.

The stance of neutrality in political media is even much more harmful than a stance of “neutrality” is in the face of someone making racist or sexist jokes or commentary. As Dan Froomkin says, the media is expected to inform the public about the truth, not about the middle ground. This dangerous way of thinking, that they are being impartial by treating each side as equally culpable, is what gives extremists their power, and they are the most likely to abuse that power as viciously and destructively as they can. That’s what we’re seeing right now, and that damage is what millions of people are feeling right now, working for no pay or being sent home from work altogether.

As much as we may want to demonize the other side, as hard as it may be to resist, any such rhetoric only causes further damage. The politicians pulling the strings here are indecent, nefarious and entirely self-serving. They are also acting out if fear, and thanks to their immensely privileged lives—they have millions of dollars in their pockets to never have to worry about being able to pay rent or mortgage fees, feeding their children, or being able to buy enough gas or a bus ticket to get to work—have no understanding or even awareness of what kind of incredible damage they are causing to the country they supposedly love.

I question the integrity and sincerity of these Republicans because they claim to love a country that doesn’t exist. They claim to love a country wherein “Obamacare” is a bad thing, rather than it being a critical step in the USA finally catching up to where all other developed countries in this world have been for decades. What I do believe is that these Republicans think that they have good intentions and are doing good things, but it is a cult-ish cycle in which the only people validating these incorrect beliefs are others who believe the same, and in their heads they vilify and demonize anyone who tells them differently, so as to easily dismiss them and avoid having to reflect on their own actions and ask themselves the hardest question in life: Am I doing the right thing here, or have I gone astray?

I pity these Republicans, because while I can understand their fears, I cannot show sympathy to them. They lost the right for respect and sympathy when they started with their insidious messaging, their photo ops and rhetoric geared specifically to manipulate their base as ruthlessly as possible to convince those people that Obama and the Democrats are at fault for wanting to care for the sick, the poor, and the uninsured people in their country—many of which are army veterans and small business owners & employees, they forget.

I pity them because they fear a world that isn’t scary. I pity them because they fear a life that demands more courage than they think they have, and are taking their anguish out on everyone who is or speaks different. I pity them because they suffer from levels of bigotry so severe, they are victims of a self-perpetuated culture of mass delusion that is their extremist right-wing fringe.

I pity the Republican representatives who know better, think better, and want to act better, but can’t—because their party leadership are political bullies with a handful of malicious cronies who force these moderate Republicans to fall in line with the party stance of pure and total obstructionism. (Note: we are seeing some pushback happening, thankfully.)

These people, mostly men, are full of fear and insecurity. They are acting without compassion because they feel a need to be defensive, as if their very existence is being threatened. But the only thing being threatened are their outdated beliefs about how the world “should” be, and even that is apparently too scary to them. Their grandstanding rhetoric is deplorable, but belies how frightful they are. To demonize them now only hardens their stance and bolsters their misguided beliefs that they are all that is left to stand up against a changing world.

So to them I say this: dear Republican House representatives: the world is changing, but it’s not scary. Let go of the fear that gay marriage will affect your life somehow. Let go of the fear that climate change is an irreversible catastrophe you simply want to take no responsibility in and thus you deny our role in it. Let go of the fear that a big, (even more) socialist government that ensures its citizens have adequate health insurance will undo everything you stand for with regards to “small government” and low taxes. You have meaningful things to contribute to political discourse, and though I may well not agree with them myself, I want to see you contribute those views. Not these extremist, unpatriotic and treasonous beliefs that the Affordable Care Act is a threat to America. It is the most American law to be passed in the last ten years: upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional, it is a law that safeguards and protects American citizens’ rights, freedom, and ability to work and pursue their own American dream.

The American Dream is one of courage, to pursue one’s goals and dreams and enjoy freedoms not known before. It did not involve trampling all over the people you took an oath to serve and represent.

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